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Contracted salaries bump up mayor’s ‘conservative’ budget

Date: 5/31/2023

AGAWAM — In anticipation of their voting to approve the town’s fiscal year 2024 budget, the Agawam City Council conducted a second budget workshop on May 22.

Mayor William Sapelli led a review of the proposed budget. Sapelli explained that the police budget includes two 2% raises. Last year was a year in which the city negotiated with the department concerning raises and did not grant a raise, Sapelli explained. One of the 2% amounts is for the previous year and one is for FY24.

There are three new police vehicles being ordered, in the department’s proposed budget, Sapelli said. Treasurer-Collector Chris Caputo explained to the council three vehicles include two frontline vehicles which he said are constantly running. They are hybrid Ford Explorers, the council was told.

Councilor George Bitzas asked about the staffing level of the department.

“Do you have enough personnel to protect the town? Are you short? Do you need more personnel” he asked.

Sapelli said after discussion with the chief he was convinced the staffing level was appropriate, though he told Bitzas, “if you’d like to raise taxes, we can hire some more.” He then praised the department and its performance.

There will be a 3.59% contractual increase in the Fire Department budget for salaries, Sapelli added. Equipment repairs also was increased due to the cost of parts.

Councilor Dino Mercadante asked about the increase for firefighter turnout gear. Sapelli said the department will have three new firefighters in FY24 and the cost of the turnout gear is between $5,000 to $6,000 for each firefighter.

For inspection services, there is a contractual increase of 30.48% for salaries and Sapelli said that three or four years ago, Bill Scott was the assistant building inspector and when he was promoted to the head job, the decision was made not to hire someone to fill the assistant inspector position.

Sapelli said that without that person, the department has been “struggling” with the workload. The mayor is bringing that position back.

In the Health Department, there was a 6.2% contractual increase in salaries as well as an increase in substitute nurse pay.

For both the Community Development Department and the library, Sapelli said there were just typical cost of living increases.

For the Senior Center budget there was a decrease of 9.56%, or $60,000, due to an expense being transferred to the Building Maintenance budget, Sapelli said.

Emergency Management also saw just a cost-of-living increase of 2.7%.

School Superintendent Sheila Hoffman said the FY24 budget reflects challenges facing the schools’ post-pandemic including learning gaps

“School communities continue to rebuild and stabilize student needs,” she said. She added, “In an attempt to meet student needs and remain fiscally responsible, we have offset expenses on the last few years with grant funding focused on one-time expenditures that would not hinder future budget years.”

The FY24 budget does not eliminate any school programs, she added.

The approved fiscal year 2023 budget was $48,730,006. The proposed school budget for FY24 is $49,960,427, an increase of 2.46% or $1,230,421. Four positions previously funded by grants were integrated into the new budget, the superintendent explained.

Councilor Rosemary Sandlin asked how many students are currently enrolled in the district. The answer was 3,700, which the superintendent said was “a little flat but down from previous years.”

Bitzas asked what the district will do when federal pandemic relief funds are exhausted. Hoffman said most of those funds have already been spent and the district has been “very strategic” in spending the funds for one-time purchases, such as technology, pre-paying for software, curriculum and professional development.

The council will meet June 5 to vote on the budget. Speaking of the overall budget, Sapelli said it’s a “pretty sound” budget that takes into account the town’s needs and services.

“We are very very conservative in most services,” he added speaking of the overall budget with a 5.8% increase over last year.